Rolex Side-by-Side: Sea Dweller vs. Submariner

Rolex Side-by-Side: Sea Dweller vs. Submariner

Diving developed as a sport and science in the early twentieth century. Before advancements in technology which included the creation of diving computers and other equipment, divers depended on their watches. In those early days, having a reliable dive watch could be the difference between life and death.

During the mid- twentieth century, the sport of diving was growing in popularity, and in turn, the production of dive watches peaked. This post-war period in the 1950’s marks a significant time in the history of the dive watch. It was then that the dive watch began to garner attention not only as a diving tool but also as a fashion accessory.

The Rolex brand has become known for its tireless research in the field of professional diving. In fact, they played a big role in the surge of dive watches during those pivotal moments in the early 1950’s. Let’s take a deeper look at two of the brand’s signature dive watch models.


a pair of white gold Submariners sitting on top of stone and to the right of a brass compass

A pair of Submariners

The Submariner debuted in 1953, during that key period of dive watch development in the mid-twentieth century. Rolex founder Han Wilsdorf was given the challenge to create a dive watch that was not only functional but also fashionable for everyday wear. The result was the Submariner, a less-sporty design that could transition from dive to dinner party. The first model, introduced at the famous Basel Fair, was the Ref. 6204 and soon followed by the Ref. 6205. Since its initial release, the Submariner has only seen minor updates—part of the watch’s timeless charm.

Some other notable variations include the Ref. 6538, which was made popular on the wrist of James Bond in the 1962 film Dr. No. The Ref. 5512 is also an important model because it introduced the now standard design feature of an oversized crown and crown guards to protect it. This particular version also gained widespread popularity on the wrist of legendary actor and racer Steve McQueen. Although the Submariner was initially created to bridge the gap between tool watch and dress watch, it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the model solidified its place in the watch world as more than a diver’s tool. With the Ref. 1680, Rolex introduced the option for a date function with Cyclops lens. This additional function gave the Submariner more mass appeal.


an image of a pair of sea dwellers in white gold and gold sitting on top of wood

A pair of Sea Dwellers

The Sea-Dweller was introduced to the Rolex line of dive watches about ten years after the debut of the Submariner. An industrial deep-sea diving company called Comex approached Rolex about creating a dive watch that could function at deeper depths for longer periods of time. In response, the brand took one of its existing Submariner models and began to tweak it. The addition of a patented one-way helium escape valve is the most notable change. It sits opposite of the crown and relieves the pressure experienced at greater depths.

In 1967, a new model was officially born – the Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665. In addition to the patented escape valve, the new Sea-Dweller also featured a Triplock crown, a thicker crystal, and a larger reinforced case. This watch has an increased depth rating of up to 2000 feet. In the years to follow, the Sea-Dweller would continue to be updated with advanced technology making it an even more optimal dive watch. The Ref. 16660 debuted in 1978 with a new movement, larger helium escape valve, and an even more impressive depth rating of up to 4000 feet.

Differences between the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller

The Submariner and Sea-Dweller have a number of common features. They both feature the brand’s patented Triplock crown, an in-house movement, and a 50-hour power reserve. However, there are also a number of key differences.

Fitting with the Submariner’s appeal to watch enthusiasts and divers alike, it’s available with a variety of functions, like a date window with Cyclops lens, and in a wider array of colors and materials. These features make it more functional and fashionable for everyday wear.

On the other hand, the Sea-Dweller is more of a functional tool, with a much higher water resistance. It’s also bulkier, sturdier, and has a sportier feel. Both watches are superb and showcase the Rolex brand’s highest standards of quality and durability. If you have to choose between the two, it all comes down to personal preference.

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Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

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